Never has duct tape served such a noble purpose.
It wraps the handlebars of the special-needs bicycle that has served Abby Franklin for more than a decade. It holds her feet in place on the pedals every time she rides.
The bike is rickety and too small, but it is essential for Abby's health.
Her mother, Beth Devine, cannot afford a new one, and so they make do with tape and little complaint.
Abby, 18, was born prematurely, entering the world at 1 pound, 10 ounces. As a result, she is a cerebral palsy quadriplegic. She has feeling all over her body but only limited control.
She has numerous other health problems, including scoliosis and dislocated hips, a consequence of hip sockets that never developed from normal walking patterns. At one point, a doctor told Devine that her daughter would never walk or talk and suggested institutionalization.
"That was never going to happen," Devine said.
To this day, she has stayed true to her word.
Devine is a single parent who lives in south Sacramento with Abby and her 9-year-old son, Zeke. A former Peace Corps volunteer and teacher, she works for an hourly wage without benefits as Abby's full-time caretaker.
Abby attends nearby Luther Burbank High School most days. She has limited cognitive abilities and "is all over the board" in her development, her mother said. She cannot read and is legally blind yet can spell and verbalize her thoughts.
She likes Barney and Barbies, but she also shows signs of teenage humor.
For Abby, who spends the bulk of her time in a wheelchair, a bicycle ride can mark the bright spot in a day.
"It's a really long day if all you do is sit," her mother said. "It's like always being on a long plane ride. So at least if you can move your legs, it makes a difference."
The family received the current bicycle, which can be guided by an adult or caretaker from behind, from a government agency when Abby was 7. Devine had it rewelded five years ago. Cruising the neighborhood on the bike is critical for Abby's circulation, flexibility, mobility, digestion, and emotional well-being, said Rinda Thoke, a respite caregiver who comes once a week for four hours to help with walking and biking exercises, feeding and other therapies.
Upon first encounter, the bicycle comes across as a sad and boxy contraption. But once Abby gets strapped in and taped down, the picture comes alive. Her legs start moving. The wheels start rolling. And her smile starts shining. For years, this bicycle has enabled a young woman with unimaginable difficulties to develop strength in her limbs, to build repetitive motions helpful in her brain and to experience the joy that comes with sailing along with the wind in her hair.
Thoke has asked The Bee's Book of Dreams readers to help provide a new special-needs bicycle for Abby. It would provide larger wheels to make pedaling easier, a taller profile and headrest to support her back and head, custom fitting and braces on the outside of the calves to keep her legs in better alignment, an easier design for on- and off-transfer, and an on-off pedal switch that would enable it to serve as a wheelchair.
NEEDED: Special-needs bicycle